Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

They Killed a Man, Not a Number

[Editor's Note: South Carolina killed Andy Smith on December 18, 1998. He was the 500th person executed in the U.S. since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Like a thousand other editors, I wanted to cover it. I asked South Carolina death row prisoner David Hill, who knew Andy personally, to write the article. This is how David replied . ]

Yes, I did know Andy Smith. But I'm sorry, I will not be able to write an article about him. For several reasons. First of all, I didn't know him that well, and knew absolutely nothing about his case or the crime for which he was accused. Nor do I know anything about his family or background. I will, however, say this about Andy: He was one of the nicest guys I've ever met.

But the main reason I won't write a story about Andy is because I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have wanted me to. I spoke to the attorneys who were trying to save his life and asked them about the protest and such. They told me that Andy was aware that he was going to be the 500th execution, and about the protest, and that he wasn't impressed.

The way Andy saw it (and I agree with him) is that the 500th execution is no more or less significant than any other. The media and some activists focused on him solely because he was the 500th execution to take place in the U.S since 1976. The bottom line is: Andy was a human being. Not a number.

I applaud the anti-death penalty groups for their efforts. I understand why they felt they had to put a spin on Andy's execution. They were only trying to raise awareness and get the media's attention. And it worked, too. But what good did it do when all is said and done? Andy is still dead.

On Friday, December 4, 1998, the state of South Carolina carried out the double killing of J.D. Gleaton and his brother, Larry "Bo" Gilbert. No major protest was held. The next Friday they killed Louis Truesdale. No major protest. But the next Friday they killed Andy, and the activists and media came out of the woodwork.

To many, Andy was just a nice big round number. Only a handful of the throng that protested his killing also attended the protests that preceded his, or the ones that followed. Andy's killing got a big turn-out not because of who he was, but because of the number he was tagged with. And that's sad.

So, no, I can't write a story on Andy and tie his name and memory to a number. I have too much respect for the dead to say anything about him that he wouldn't approve of if he were still alive. And from what I gather, Andy would not want me to write the story you proposed. I hope you understand.

But there is something I would like for you to print if you can find the space in your News In Brief section. I would really like you to print the following and set the record straight:

SC : On December 18, 1998, Andy Smith a human being, not a number was killed by the state of South Carolina, as an act of vengeance.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login